The Gospel this week (Matthew 18.15-20) is an important issue for the entire Anglican Church in Canada these days. It is about how to treat people when they have sinned against you. But it made me stop and consider if we really know these days, what a sin is. I have been watching reaction to an article that was written for the September Anglican Journal by the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz. I have been watching and listening to the reaction towards this article because the Primate talks about “good disagreement”. Personally, I find that when someone uses such language, they consider themselves the victor in a dispute. Everyone got heard and many opinions were expressed and then the right decision was made, favouring the side that declares victory. The problem I have with this method of handling conflict in the Church, is that despite the declarations of being inclusive and that everyone’s thoughts and opinions are going to be listened to and honoured, it is increasingly clear that this is not true.
As I consider the Gospel, I must ask, do we as a Church know what a sin is anymore? The only real sin I see castigated against is anything that is capable of curtailing choice of the individual. This is utterly against what the Gospel clearly teaches. Sin is not just a personal matter between you and God, because sin affects and infects the community and well as our connections with God.
What is sin? The Greek word most used in the New Testament is hamartano. It means that a person, in living one’s life, misses the mark and thus does not get to share in the victory and its prize. Living in a state of unexpiated (unredeemed) sin (which is hamartia), constantly and consistently leaves a person away from God. There is never a victory, there is never that which is enjoyed after a victory. And it might be important to know that there is no list or worse grading of sin that says that one must be address an is worse than another. We are to confront and help each other on an ongoing basis with living the life that God calls us to. It is not easy to do but we are not alone in it, the community that is the Church is responsible for making sure that we live out the Gospel – together. The unity of our message in the common life of the Church, which helps people to see the Lord Jesus Christ.
We need to learn to deal with our conflicts in a more fruitful way that builds up the unity of our community rather than seeking the winner and losers and creating division in the Body of Christ. In saying this, I think of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians on conflict in their Church. He tells them point blank:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. – 1st Corinthians 12.12-31
The process is not about right and wrong and making winners and losers but about righteousness and holiness between God and us and between each other. It is about building up the Body of Christ and drawing people into the reign of God’s kingdom – that is the work that we are called to. We are to be that presence to help one another to be reconciled to God and in the process become family to one another. What welds the Church together is a common faith in the mission that God has given them and a trust in each other that is like family.
I rejoice that we are in the time we are in this Church and in this country because this is a time where we can, as a community, no longer a weak gospel. The “its no biggy” approach to preaching the reconciling message of God will no longer work in Canada. We need to preach and live so that people will feel the wind and experience the flame. This world is destined to be transformed and to experience holiness – life that is animated by the things of heaven. Our life and ministry need to help people to keep short accounts with God and with neighbours through loving them into the kingdom.
Be ready to preach, pray and die at a moment’s notice. Be prepared to seek out the least, the last and the lost for the sake of the One who would not live without us. Be ready to forgive and to make reconciliation work in your life and in the life of your faith community. Most of all, let us strive to love one another as Christ love us and gave himself up for us that we would be the victorious Church when we get to be the Church at rest.